President Obama has commuted the sentences of eight people convicted of drug crimes, saying their terms were unusually harsh due to a system that treated crack cocaine as a more serious offense than powder cocaine.
The president also pardoned 13 others convicted of various other offenses.
The commutations come after the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which is aimed at reducing disparities in the way the law treats cocaine possession.
"If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society," Obama said in a written statement.
"Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year."
"The eight have each served more than 15 years in prison. A White House official said their sentences had been unduly harsh and helped contribute to 'an expensive and ineffective overcrowding of our prisons.' "
The Associated Press writes:
"Previously, Obama had commuted only one sentence in the five years of his presidency, involving another drug case. He previously had pardoned 39 people. A pardon forgives a crime and wipes out the conviction, while a commutation leaves the conviction but ends the punishment.
"In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a major shift in federal sentencing policies, targeting long mandatory terms that he said have flooded the nation's prisons with low-level drug offenders and diverted crime-fighting dollars that could be far better spent."